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Excellent writeup Tod. Thanks!

There are a few bloggers writing about the AUA method.

One already went through the program (satisfied) and no longer updates his blog.

The other is working through it now (also satisfied).

I don't cotton to the theory of arriving at AUA with no Thai, but the rest might work with me.

(haven't tried it, so can't say for sure, obviously)

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There's an interesting framework of Thai studies in the US (1999) (available at http://n68h78.cs.niu.edu/Thai/LLF/Default.htm ) that details the variety of Thai language course in American universities. It may be of some use to those who are seeking quality language training here in Thailand. As an example, in the Northern Illinois University course description, the comment:

"..........by making the class as "interactive" as possible, by the end of the first semester, all students can carry can carry on a simple conversation based on the first ten lessons of the AUA Thai Language Course Book I, and the first ten lessons of the Thai primary school reader that I simply refer to as "Maanii,"

and

"Every Friday we have a student-centered exam which requires each student to use three skills: speaking, listening, and writing, They write in Thai script only--- never in phonemics."

Maybe it's not fair to compare language training in Thai language schools with that of the universities elsewhere, but at least it gives you some idea of what a student expects semester to semester back in the US. That may be a good starting point for seeking out quality language training here (even if done with a private teacher).

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I think it is fair to compare serious Thai students in the US with serious Thai students in Thailand. I believe their aim is the same in the US and in Thailand - namely to learn to speak Thai as efficiently as possible.

Unfortunately - supplying Ed Visas to disinterested "students" wanting to live in Thailand appears to be the main objective of some private Thai Language Schools (just look at their advertising) and improved quality teaching Thai is not the Schools concern.

I also believe frequent quality "interaction" in Thai and writing in Thaiscript is part of the solution.

Edited by Parvis
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  • 2 weeks later...
Tod - very interesting post. How do you compare AUA now to Walen? Price, Quality - Efficacy?

Sadly comparing Walen and AUA are like comparing apples to oranges :D Aside from both of them being fruit there are few similarities; so aside from both of them being thai language schools they have much more dissimilarities than things in common.

I still say AUA is NOT a beginning school, and if you know zero thai, you’re likely to come out of an hour’s lesson more discouraged than you entered. :D I know David Long disagrees with this, but seeing as there is NO in class interaction, NO ability to ask questions and NO speaking it’s my own personal take on their methodology. I guess I prefer to learn more interactively than passively.

However with that being said, ANYONE who knows even a smattering of thai can and will benefit from sitting their classes. :D The teachers do a sufficient job in miming out new vocabulary words so you can at least glean the meaning. They speak at normal thai cadence and speech patterns, so you’re exposed to regularly spoken thai, not a teacher over pronouncing words at a snails pace. :D

I’m gonna try to sit some more classes at AUA this upcoming week just to gauge the level of my comprehension. Last time I sat level 3-4 and easily understood the context of the hour long lesson.

The biggest drawback in my quest for speaking, reading & writing thai is my own doubts about my ability. :D The extreme reticence I have in speaking thai; even if I know how to say it correctly, with the proper structure has held me back much more than what ever school or method I would care to attend.

When I add in the fact I recognize written thai words via context and/or memorized recognition, instead of by the toning and/or pronunciation rules; it means I sometimes pronounce words wrong. :)

I still gotta take the time to learn the tone rules, but so far it’s beyond me.

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Mr. Tod Daniels, I salute your language learning efforts as I see you getting closer and closer to a solution. I would suggest that avoiding the tone rules at this point is a very good thing. All you have to do is attend the AUA classes regularly, and when you're there, be fully there. The learning will happen--naturally--and that's the point of the approach.

As far as pronunciation goes, we need to mimic as closely as possible the native-Thai pronunciation we come across, but the theory that one will learn the tone rules and then apply them when speaking is and always has been bogus. Most of the language teaching industry wants it to work that way. Too bad it doesn't.

I believe Dr. J. Marvin Brown was at least 50 when he was finally able to free his mind in terms of language learning. It took me until the age of 50 to free my mind. Perhaps you (being retired) are over 50 as well as you begin to question your lifelong language learning beliefs.

Good luck, my friend. I hope to see you in the AUA classes if the accident will.

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Good point - kpmsprtd

Do Thai children learn tone rules while learning to speak - ofcourse not.

Do Thai children learn tone rules when they learn to read and write - ofcourse.

Assuming I am correct - it is therefore logically a question of - WHEN not IF - tone rules etc. become necessary for any of us farangs.

I am also over 50 - in fact - way over 50. My primary concern is speaking Thai - therefore "mimicing" Thai pronounciation. But I am also making progress in reading Thai script - therefore tone rules eventually will become necessary if I want to read aloud correctly - spell correctly - and for that matter - comprehend what I am reading correctly.

Edited by Parvis
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Mr. Tod Daniels, I salute your language learning efforts as I see you getting closer and closer to a solution. I would suggest that avoiding the tone rules at this point is a very good thing. All you have to do is attend the AUA classes regularly, and when you're there, be fully there. The learning will happen--naturally--and that's the point of the approach.

As far as pronunciation goes, we need to mimic as closely as possible the native-Thai pronunciation we come across, but the theory that one will learn the tone rules and then apply them when speaking is and always has been bogus. Most of the language teaching industry wants it to work that way. Too bad it doesn't.

The AUA method is interesting and certainly should help with clear pronunciation. I'm just wondering how long it takes using this method to actually speak conversationally; how many words do you learn with AUA per hour? Especially since you seem to be saying the method discourages reading (which I've always thought of as a good way to supplement vocabulary and grammar studies). I'm assuming it discourages reading since it would seem non-sensical to promote the ability to read Thai but only with a middle tone; if you're going to read, it would seem to make sense to spend the extra 10% of time to figure out how to clearly pronounce words. And yes, Thai children definitely learn the tone rules when learning how to read.

I think promoting only a single method is the wrong approach. Learning to read/write, speak and listen are different skills and there are many facets to them, so I would think one would try throwing a bunch of methods at the problem and keep with whatever sticks for you. I'm guessing for kpmsprtd the AUA method has been very good in getting you to or towards a conversational level. I would think it would however take a long time to get there with only this method.

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Thanks for your well expressed comments, El Jefe. Unfortunately, I am extremely guilty of analyzing. Despite my conviction that this penchant for willful language analysis impedes my long term fluency, I still engage in it daily. At the same time, I do try to set up as many conditions as possible for acquisition. I listen to podcasts, watch movies, and spend a lot of time lurking on Thai language social networking sites. I read quite a bit, but I do not read out loud. How useful a skill is it, really, to be able to read out loud in Thai?

I am familiar with all the tone rules, but I am deliberately spending no effort on memorizing them. All my effort is focused on gathering what Dr. J. Marvin Brown called Mental Image Flashes. I'll use the example of the Thai word เรียบร้ย. I see the tone markers now, but they don't tell me what tones to use as I haven't memorized the rules. However, I recently spent one day with a family. The 10-year-old daughter took pictures all day long, and every time, when she was satisfied with the shot, she said: "เรียบร้ย" I know exactly how to say the word. I can still see and hear that wonderful little girl saying it in my mind's eye. The dictionary tells me it's a falling tone, followed by a high tone. I don't know about that. I only know how to pronounce it fairly closely to how the girl did it. And when I read aloud--if I ever read aloud--I will know how to pronounce เรียบร้ย. Maybe after I achieve a practical level of proficiency, I will sit down and work backwards. That is, I'll look at the words I already know how to pronounce and apply the tone rules to perhaps figure out something along the lines of: That's what they mean by a high tone. Or: So this is what they're calling a rising tone.

As an experiment, think about the words you really know, the magical words for you, where you can remember exactly when/how you acquired that word. Fascinating, isn't it?

But you're certainly right about different approaches being required for different skills. I make no apologies for using a fairly analytical approach in learning reading/writing. I do have Mental Image Flashes for key learnings there as well, however. My most recent example is เหาว. After knowing it conversationally, including the pronunciation, I was surprised one day recently on a social networking site, when it suddenly dawned on me that this strange (to me) spelling was "ngao". Years of willful analytical study be damned, it was only at that moment that the spelling/pronunciation came together for me. And the big driver behind that learning success was context.

Mental Image Flashes, what an interesting concept...

--------------------------------------------

El Jefe wrote: "I think promoting only a single method is the wrong approach. Learning to read/write, speak and listen are different skills and there are many facets to them, so I would think one would try throwing a bunch of methods at the problem and keep with whatever sticks for you. I'm guessing for kpmsprtd the AUA method has been very good in getting you to or towards a conversational level. I would think it would however take a long time to get there with only this method."

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I did a Thai class at the school one, but now I have a very good teacher - i mean perfect one in Bangkok. I am Korean, living in Thailand for some season and need Thai for my work and friends. I am taking a class with Ajarn Jumbo - he is great and yet his class is so easy. only 3 months I feel i can read and wirte also speak in advance level. in addition, it's so cheap because I am charged only 300 baht per hours. here, I wana get you guys this guy because i have tried many teacher here in bangkok but they just wasted my times and money but for this guy - Jumbo, he is worth for everything. Don't believe me, try his lesson then email me how do you like it?

shall I leave his contact: 0883821237

my email: [email protected]

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I have been trying now for 2 months to sign up for Pro Language school in Times Square for their 20 lessons Thai course but have been let down twice now.

I really want to study Thai and I had hoped to take up the Education Visa option with Pro Language but I also want to see how the classes are before spending 25000 Baht

Has anyone studied there lately?

Thanks

Macanello

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I have been trying now for 2 months to sign up for Pro Language school in Times Square for their 20 lessons Thai course but have been let down twice now.

SNIP ;)

I don't quite understand what "been trying for 2 months to sign up but have been let down" really means. I’m sure if you show up with money in your hand, they’ll find a way to accommodate you. ..

I know several people who are studying and have studied at Pro Language in the Times Square building. They seemed quite happy with the material and the methodology used for teaching thai to foreigners. I sat in on one of the beginner classes and thought it was pretty good "bang-4-the-baht" in terms of value.

I know they have classes going just about all the time. Sometimes if you do a group lesson (cheaper price than private) you hafta wait a week or two for them to get a group together to start the class. When you do private lessons they’re more flexible and will pretty much teach you when you want to be taught. Their price of 25K baht for 180 group lessons is right in line for the yearly deal most private thai language schools have to get you the ED visa.

I'm sure Pro will let you sit a free class or at least a free hour to scope it out. Call ‘em and see when they have a class you can sit in on.

Here’s their info:

Website;

www.prolanguage.co.th

Address;

10th Fl. Times Square Building 246 Sukhumvit Road

Bangkok, Thailand 10110

Phone;

Tel. 02-250-0072 (5 lines)

I just called them and they have a new beginner class starting tomorrow the 21st from 6:00 – 7:40PM

BTW: I am NOT affiliated with Pro Language, and offer my opinion ONLY. :D

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Tod - very interesting post. How do you compare AUA now to Walen? Price, Quality - Efficacy?

Sadly comparing Walen and AUA are like comparing apples to oranges :D Aside from both of them being fruit there are few similarities; so aside from both of them being thai language schools they have much more dissimilarities than things in common.

I still say AUA is NOT a beginning school, and if you know zero thai, you’re likely to come out of an hour’s lesson more discouraged than you entered. :D I know David Long disagrees with this, but seeing as there is NO in class interaction, NO ability to ask questions and NO speaking it’s my own personal take on their methodology. I guess I prefer to learn more interactively than passively.

However with that being said, ANYONE who knows even a smattering of thai can and will benefit from sitting their classes. :D The teachers do a sufficient job in miming out new vocabulary words so you can at least glean the meaning. They speak at normal thai cadence and speech patterns, so you’re exposed to regularly spoken thai, not a teacher over pronouncing words at a snails pace. :D

I’m gonna try to sit some more classes at AUA this upcoming week just to gauge the level of my comprehension. Last time I sat level 3-4 and easily understood the context of the hour long lesson.

The biggest drawback in my quest for speaking, reading & writing thai is my own doubts about my ability. :D The extreme reticence I have in speaking thai; even if I know how to say it correctly, with the proper structure has held me back much more than what ever school or method I would care to attend.

When I add in the fact I recognize written thai words via context and/or memorized recognition, instead of by the toning and/or pronunciation rules; it means I sometimes pronounce words wrong. :)

I still gotta take the time to learn the tone rules, but so far it’s beyond me.

Tod I am curious to know if you sat some more classes at AUA and what your experience was.

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I'd concur with some of the other posters regarding AUA. I started attending a few months back after having a couple of years of learning from online resources / books etc (which I still like to do to practice reading). I found it to be very useful reinforcing my comprehension of the language, albeit at a low level (my main first goal!). The flexibility / cost is second to none for me, since there are so many classes and I'm out of the country for sometimes 6 weeks at a time working (spending only about half a year in Thailand), so I can come back and get stuck back into the classes at my level. The lessons, for me at least, are made enjoyable by the teachers.

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If you read more this forum you will find that our teachers are actually considered very good.

Walen School - our teachers are our pride!

www.thaiwalen.com

I am not a Walen hater, far from it.

I would like to however offer some constructive feedback.

Some of your teachers are exceptionaly good, some are not so good.

As someone who has attended many lessons, both group lessons and private lessons, and as someone who's proffesion was adult education for the last 15 years, both as a teacher, a teacher of teachers and a business owner, I would like to offer a suggestion to improve what you have on offer.

As with all feedback you can take it as a gift, open it, or leave it to one side.

How I see your business is.. rather like a gym, it is about membership, who signs up, rather than who attends. Those signing up to obtain an Education visa being your income, lessons are maybe secondary to that.

I have been/am a regular attendee, but I have seen many people use your school just to get the visa, and either do not want to do the lessons, or get put off but the lack of quality of your less than best teachers.

What I have observed is that the best teachers also tend to be the best at doing the paperwork for the visas, so your students are left, quite often, with the less than best teachers most days.

I can see the focus on making money and getting the paperwork right, I can also see and speak to the unhappy students who are not getting the best possible you could offer with your better teachers.

So as to a constructive way forward:

Feedback is the way you really know how your teachers are doing. In the best adult teaching environments, the adult students are asked to fill out feedback forms about the teachers performance.

This one simple step would tell you a lot about your perceptions vs. your customers perceptions.

There is also ongoing evaluations of your rookie teachers. An experienced teacher sitting in on a class regularly (for the whole 50 minutes) and filling in a feedback sheet and offering feedback on what they are doing well and what they need to work on.

I am sure you will learn a lot if you are brave enough to put this in place.

I would like your busines to do well, I attend in Pattaya and I am a keen student.... It is often humbling to get 100% honest feedback from your customers, but if you are truely wanting Walen to be the best it can possibly be.... some humility along the way can pay off big time in a large improvement of what you offer in the future.

All the best.

Edited by KorKai
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Thank you for your feedback. We are indeed committed to excellence. I will implement teacher evaluation forms, it is a very good idea. We do not want to focus on the visa side as we are first and foremost a language school. It is true that some of the students are not as interested in learning as they are in obtaining visas and we are providing professional service to them and do our best to develop their deeper interest in learning Thai or English.

Thank you for your post. Really appreciate it.

Walen School - committed to excellence

www.thaiwalen.com

For priority service please register

www.dcs.walenschool.com/1mw290910.eng

Edited by macwalen
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Mr. Tod Daniels, I salute your language learning efforts as I see you getting closer and closer to a solution. I would suggest that avoiding the tone rules at this point is a very good thing. All you have to do is attend the AUA classes regularly, and when you're there, be fully there. The learning will happen--naturally--and that's the point of the approach.

As far as pronunciation goes, we need to mimic as closely as possible the native-Thai pronunciation we come across, but the theory that one will learn the tone rules and then apply them when speaking is and always has been bogus. Most of the language teaching industry wants it to work that way. Too bad it doesn't.

I believe Dr. J. Marvin Brown was at least 50 when he was finally able to free his mind in terms of language learning. It took me until the age of 50 to free my mind. Perhaps you (being retired) are over 50 as well as you begin to question your lifelong language learning beliefs.

Good luck, my friend. I hope to see you in the AUA classes if the accident will.

I was hopeless with tones too, the problem for me was that every method I attempted only served to confuse me more. I think this is because they try to get you into vocabulary before you can even make the right sounds. I felt I was permanently stuck, hoping that context would be enough. But then I got the High speed Thai course and they hit you right off the start with tones, it's 125 pages before they give you your first vocabulary words.

I got to say it took about 10 days to have the rules internalized. I already knew how to read Thai, but my Thai was toneless and as confusing to me as it was to anyone else. Now when I see a word, I know instantly (most of the time) what the tone is, and I can memorize the word with the tone it makes instead of just hoping I'll start to say it right one day.

My problem now is relearning the words I have been mispronouncing for the last 7 years.

Edited by canuckamuck
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I was hopeless with tones too, the problem for me was that every method I attempted only served to confuse me more.<SNIP>

Sadly, just reading a thai word and knowing the tone will NOT give you the frickin' definition of the word.

True, you might be able to clearly ask a thai what the word means, but, other than that, learning the tones to read thai is IMHO; as "worthless as tits on a bull". :o

I can read, understand, and back translate into engrish almost everything I read in thai, yet my tones in spoken thai border on being abysmal. :bah:

How can I read thai, without knowing the tones? Because reading thai is done by ROTE. You learn how a word is spelled in thai, you learn to recognize that word when you see it, and you learn to know what it's meaning is in your native language :). It's not rocket science here, we're not decoding the human genome. <_< (I will admit though that compound thai words whose individual meanings do NOT equal the meaning when combined, do throw me for a loop. ..)

I've met way too many foreigners who are what I call; "thai tone smart" but "thai word stupid" :blink:. I'd prefer to know the meaning of a word when I see it written, rather than know how to say it in perfectly enunciated thai. But that's just me, so don't take it personally. :lol:

At least in my book; speaking thai clearly, and reading thai for comprehension are "horses of a different color" (Note; your book may, and probably does differ :ermm: ).. .

And FWIW: I looked at "hi-speed thai" and thought it bit the big one; especially at their ridiculous price. Sheesh, a person could by a bookshelf FULL of great books on how to learn the thai language for the price they charge. ..

But I digress. What ever floats your boat is fine. .. ... :lol: After all we're just trying to communicate with these people (the thais) in their language.. .. B)

Sorry no editing, it was dust on the p/c screen :P

Edited by tod-daniels
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I was hopeless with tones too, the problem for me was that every method I attempted only served to confuse me more.<SNIP>

Sadly, just reading a thai word and knowing the tone will NOT give you the frickin' definition of the word.

True, you might be able to clearly ask a thai what the word means, but, other than that, learning the tones to read thai is IMHO; as "worthless as tits on a bull". :o

I can read, understand, and back translate into engrish almost everything I read in thai, yet my tones in spoken thai border on being abysmal. :bah:

How can I read thai, without knowing the tones? Because reading thai is done by ROTE. You learn how a word is spelled in thai, you learn to recognize that word when you see it, and you learn to know what it's meaning is in your native language :). It's not rocket science here, we're not decoding the human genome. <_< (I will admit though that compound thai words whose individual meanings do NOT equal the meaning when combined, do throw me for a loop. ..)

I've met way too many foreigners who are what I call; "thai tone smart" but "thai word stupid" :blink:. I'd prefer to know the meaning of a word when I see it written, rather than know how to say it in perfectly enunciated thai. But that's just me, so don't take it personally. :lol:

At least in my book; speaking thai clearly, and reading thai for comprehension are "horses of a different color" (Note; your book may, and probably does differ :ermm: ).. .

And FWIW: I looked at "hi-speed thai" and thought it bit the big one; especially at their ridiculous price. Sheesh, a person could by a bookshelf FULL of great books on how to learn the thai language for the price they charge. ..

But I digress. What ever floats your boat is fine. .. ... :lol: After all we're just trying to communicate with these people (the thais) in their language.. .. B)

Sorry no editing, it was dust on the p/c screen :P

Ok Tod I don't want to get into a big argument here and perhaps I miscommunicated.

The problem for me, seems to have been exactly the same thing you have described; that I could read Thai and translate it to Engrish, but when I spoke it was incorrect because the tones were incorrect.

The problem was that all the mai's(for example) came out my mouth the same way because I could never remember which was low, rising, falling etc.

I could ask, or look it up and then I would know for a while, but that is inefficient to do for every word.

Now since I have been shown, in a method that finally made sense, the mechanics of the tones based on vowels, end sounds, and consonant class; I can study Thai wherever I see it written and see the tones built in. For example I can now get 20 our of 20 on that thailanguage.com tone test without turning the speakers on. before the best I could do was about 15% and without the sound I had no idea at all.

Now I am not saying that all of a sudden I am speaking like a native, but what I am saying is, my wife is finally complementing my getting the right pronunciation, and that is a first in five years of marriage. I have tried a number of books, cd's, and even completed one of the expensive language courses, but this is the first time the tone rules made sense to me.

So I feel HST has been worth it so far, I will let you know later if I continue to be impressed

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Ok Tod I don't want to get into a big argument here and perhaps I miscommunicated.<SNIP>

I don't want to argue either and apologize for my very blunt, condescending and acerbic posting style which, more times than not, comes across a little harsh... :blink:

Perhaps I lashed out at your post more out of honest to goodness envy than for any other reason. :whistling:

The toning of words in my spoken thai is terrible, (well not too bad with frequently spoken words carry either the rising or falling tone); but bad enough to make my thai language teacher friends shake their heads when I speak. Even though, I've found once a thai knows how my obviously foreign accented thai sounds, and I've interacted with them a while, they have no problem understanding my off-toned words.

Early on I tried to learn the 'tone rules', and I mean really tried, spent hours studying the rules, had charts, etc. But, for some reason they just never stuck inside my head. :(

Other than garnering the meaning of a spoken word via context or seeing the word written out and gleaning the meaning from rote memorization, I couldn't tell you the tone of an unfamiliar thai word with any degree of accuracy. (Unless that word happened to be spelled with ไม้จัตวา ;) ). .

I admire your efforts and the progress you've made in a part of the thai language (recognizing tones from written words). This particular quandary can and does throw foreigners 'off-script' much more so than bad thai sentence structure. It's right up there with a foreigner drawing out the pronunciation of a thai word like we do in engrish so someone can understand it easier. Sadly in thai, changing vowel length is nearly the same as changing the tone of a word; again, you run amuck quite quickly :ermm: .

Again; I meant no personal disrespect, and give you "two thumbs up" in both your effort and your ability. :D

Edited by tod-daniels
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tod,

I'll jump in the middle of page 51 of this thread: My guess is, with your background/knowledge of Thai, you need a good one-on-one teacher who can break the code for you. I tried to self-learn the tones and tried a classroom environment without any luck. My village pharmacist (the daughter of an elementary school teacher) got me to understand. Lots of head-aching practice hammers the rules home.

In the end, you'll begin getting honest complements (I hope), not about how well you speak Thai (all Thais will tell you that), but about how clearly you speak Thai (no one ever told me that until I got the tones down). The simple tone test available at w.thai-language.com/id/798459 is a painless way to help you learn and reinforce your work.

The best part is, I can ask someone on the street what a sign (for example) means, and I get an answer. Before I learned the tones, most folks on the street didn't have a clue what I was saying.

Good luck in your studies.

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Tod,

Reading with the correct tones will help with your spoken Thai. If your tones are "abysmal" when you speak it's because either you can't correctly produce each tone or because you use the wrong tone. Reading has helped me with both problems.

When doing normal reading for enjoyment, every word I see I'm automatically reviewing the tone and I will find words where the tone is different than I thought. There are a few words that have different tones when written vs. spoken but most are the same. The second thing I do is to sometimes read a bit more slowly and subvocalize each word making sure I "say" it with the right tone. When I'm feeling really brave, I'll read out loud and record it using audacity to hear what I really sound like.

I meet about once per week with a Thai teacher on an informal basis. I help her with English and she helps me with Thai. I specifically asked her to be hard on me about the tones. She told me that they aren't always correct, but they're pretty good and she has no problem understanding me due to the tones, so we focus more on grammar and vocabulary.

It really is worth the effort to learn.

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The reason my pronunciation is crap, I have only recently come to realise thanks to contributions in this forum, appears to be due to VOWEL errors. Tones, I can do, after learning to match the rules I know from reading with the sounds I hear from, well, listening :P, it becomes easy to use a few examplars across the whole language.

Tod, from a purely logical point of view, what is the likelihood that

i. your self-confessed inablity to speak the tones correctly; and

ii. your self-confessed inability to read the tones in writing

are completely unconnected? ;)

I can only echo Kikenyoy's point that:

It really is worth the effort to learn.
Edited by SoftWater
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The reason my pronunciation is crap, I have only recently come to realise thanks to contributions in this forum, appears to be due to VOWEL errors.

Interesting. Do you have trouble pronouncing certain vowels or is it more a case of getting the vowel length wrong?

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The reason my pronunciation is crap, I have only recently come to realise thanks to contributions in this forum, appears to be due to VOWEL errors. Tones, I can do, after learning to match the rules I know from reading with the sounds I hear from, well, listening :P, it becomes easy to use a few examplars across the whole language.  

I think we've touched on this before regarding tones (I learned the tones the same way), but it works just as well for vowels--for example, if you can master the vowel sound in, say, ตา, well, that's the same อา as in all the other words with อา. You've just got to think of a common example for every vowel in Thai, then listen carefully for those words and practice, practice, practice.

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Thanks Peppy, yes, that's a lesson I tried to apply very early on, but found it wasn't as successful.

Take the words บ้าน and ตา. The vowel sound in the latter tends to be shorter (at least the way people I know in Bkk say it), and its not just because there's a consonant sound on the end, because it is regular in ถาม. Other words I've noticed that seem to be pronounced short with -า also begin with บ - such as บาง and บ้าง, but I don't think its confined to these. Believe me, I've been over this hill time and again with native speakers. I used to pronounce these words long and couldn't get anything but confused looks. Shortening them brought success. I don't know why this is, other than I suspect vowel pronunciation in colloquial speech is a lot more irregular from formal spelling than tones. Although there are examples of words that are spoken with different tones from their formal spelling (เขา and เค้า) these are relatively few apart and easy to pick up on.

Peppy, your contributions are always informative and interesting, so any thoughts on this most welcome. Maybe my slice of experience with native speakers it itself 'irregular' and others have not met with the same experience (another common facet of learning Thai that I have begun to appreciate from participation in this forum)?

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Thanks Peppy, yes, that's a lesson I tried to apply very early on, but found it wasn't as successful.

Take the words บ้าน and ตา. The vowel sound in the latter tends to be shorter (at least the way people I know in Bkk say it), and its not just because there's a consonant sound on the end, because it is regular in ถาม. Other words I've noticed that seem to be pronounced short with -า also begin with บ - such as บาง and บ้าง, but I don't think its confined to these. Believe me, I've been over this hill time and again with native speakers. I used to pronounce these words long and couldn't get anything but confused looks. Shortening them brought success. I don't know why this is, other than I suspect vowel pronunciation in colloquial speech is a lot more irregular from formal spelling than tones. Although there are examples of words that are spoken with different tones from their formal spelling (เขา and เค้า) these are relatively few apart and easy to pick up on.

Peppy, your contributions are always informative and interesting, so any thoughts on this most welcome. Maybe my slice of experience with native speakers it itself 'irregular' and others have not met with the same experience (another common facet of learning Thai that I have begun to appreciate from participation in this forum)?

The words บ้าน, ตา,and ถาม have three different tones using the same vowel า. You have given us a falling tone, a mid tone, and a rising tone in that order. This vowel will be stressed differently in the different tone usage. But It is always considered a long vowel even though it might change a little in sound (modulation) depending on the tone usage.

I think you are trying to find the answer to tones by memorizing vowel sounds of certain words, but it might be better in the long run to memorize what makes the change happen, ie the tone rules, and then apply the rules to create the right sound.

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